Local: Education

Washington-area colleges among best values in the nation

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Photo - University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson, in springtime
University of Virginia Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson, in springtime
Local,Education,Lisa Gartner,Higher Education

When it comes to bang for your buck, the Washington area is a veritable firework.

In newly released rankings of the nation's "best values" in public colleges, Maryland and Virginia schools took three of the top five spots, as both states' flagship universities moved up in the eyes of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.

The University of Virginia jumped over the University of Florida to take the No. 2 spot, behind the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The College of William & Mary held steady at fourth place, while the University of Maryland's College Park campus increased its standing from eighth to fifth over last year's list.

Source: Kiplinger's Personal Finance

10 best values
Rank Public college Total cost per year: in-state Total cost per year: out-of-state Average debt at graduation
1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $18,609 $39,361 $17,525
2. University of Virginia $22,645 $48,597 $20,951
3. University of Florida $16,593 $38,870 $16,841
4. College of William & Mary $23,950 $47,724 $20,835
5. University of Maryland, College Park $19,931 $38,310 $24,180
6. University of California, Los Angeles $26,888 $49,766 $18,814
7. New College of Florida $16,181 $39,210 $14,172
8. University of California, Berkeley $29,049 $51,927 $17,116
9. SUNY Geneseo $18,519 $27,769 $21,000
10. University of California, San Diego $26,632 $49,510 $19,936

The rankings set a college's academics against its tuition, in an effort to determine which schools are sensible investments for students and their parents. Quality is determined by the admission rate, the retention rate of students after freshman year, the student-to-faculty ratio and the four-year graduation rate.

"As a father of five, I know very well how expensive college is, and the burden that expense puts on families and students," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, touting his own efforts to control tuition increases in Virginia's public universities. "While there is much work left to be done, this Kiplinger ranking reaffirms our efforts to make our world-class public colleges more affordable and accessible to all Virginia students."

The total cost of Virginia's flagship, including tuition, room and board and other fees, is $22,645 annually for commonwealth residents. For nonresidents, it's $48,597 -- making the top-tier public school a bargain for locals but as costly as Harvard University for the 30 percent of enrollees not from Virginia's borders. However, about two-thirds of U.Va.'s students qualify for financial aid, the average package being $22,445 a year.

The University of Maryland, College Park, is less expensive than U.Va., at $19,931 for the 77 percent of students who are Maryland residents and $38,310 for the 23 percent hailing from elsewhere. The average financial aid package is also smaller, at $11,340.

William & Mary is easier on the checkbook than both larger schools, and its students tend to graduate with less debt. And as McDonnell was quick to point out, among the top 100 colleges, only U.Va. and William & Mary had four-year graduation rates above 80 percent.

Six other local public colleges rounded out the top 100, including James Madison University (20), Virginia Tech (28), St. Mary's College of Maryland (41), University of Mary Washington (53), George Mason University (56) and Christopher Newport University (87).

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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